Alabama football: Hurts puts the pain on Fresno State

September 10, 2017

TUSCALOOSA — Hale Hentges raised his hands in triumph. The man for whom he opened a gaping hole along the right side dove for the pylon raced ahead, leaving two Fresno State defenders little chance once they reached the 10-yard line.

Jalen Hurts high stepped, reaching the football over the goal line, a 55-yard touchdown run upheld by a brief replay review.

Thirty-nine seconds after it began, and on its second play from scrimmage, the result of this football game was determined. Alabama did not trail again, winning 41-10 against the team sportsbooks projected it would beat by 44 points.

Any surviving intrigue surrounded Hurts. Seven days ago against Florida State, he had five second-half passing yards, unable to match the startling continuity of his defense. One wide receiver caught a pass. No other was targeted more than two times.

Tide coach Nick Saban requested more progression. From Hurts. From an offensive line he claimed was not physical enough for his liking.

Armed with a game plan filled with screen passes and slants, Hurts heeded his coaching staff’s weeklong directive. Ten of his first 11 completions were to six different receivers. Eight total Crimson Tide players caught passes from their starting quarterback who was not sacked.

Hurts accounted for 231 of Alabama’s 297 first-half yards. All four drives he directed resulted in touchdowns. Hentges broke free on a seam route during the Tide’s second drive, hauling in the first touchdown of his three-year Crimson Tide career with no defenders in sight.

When Hurts ceded his position to backup Tua Tagovailoa with 13:12 remaining in the game and his team ahead by four touchdowns, Alabama had 386 total yards. Hurts had 282 of them. His 154 rushing yards were a new career-high.

A one-win team in 2016, Fresno State’s program has cratered. It is alumnus Jeff Tedford’s job to resurrect it.

A 24-year coaching veteran of the Pacific Northwest, Tedford’s tutored quarterback royalty. Derek Carr, Joey Harrington and Aaron Rodgers are among his pupils.

Saturday, he deployed Chason Virgil to accomplish the seemingly unattainable — sustaining competence against a ferocious Crimson Tide defense beset by injuries.

Playing with four of its most proficient pass-rushers in street clothes, Alabama’s defense adjusted to its new normal. The Bulldogs mustered less than two yards per rush.

Cycling in Keith Holcombe, Jamey Mosley and Mack Wilson to replace the fallen linebackers, the Crimson Tide was susceptible to short passes but kept any chunk plays from developing — Virgil’s 30-yard, first-quarter screen pass to Da’Mari Scott notwithstanding.

Hurts made those at will. Six of his 10 rushes were for more than 10 yards, none prettier than his 16-yard scamper late in the third quarter.

The game was well in hand. It would turn out to be Hurts’ final series, after which he sprinted to Saban, whose many requests he’d fulfilled.